Some Thoughts on Film Digitization

February 01, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

Today, I have something definitely different for you. Today's post is about the process of film digitization, i.e. the process that takes the analog images captured on film and converts them into digital images that can be seen on our electronic gadgets, shared over the internet, or digitally printed. If you're here for photos and the behind the scenes stories, I am sorry but you will have to skip today's post and come back next week. In a way, this is more of a journal entry for me to have a reminder of the process I have already gone through so that I can improve it.

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This whole story has been developing for several months now. For the most part, I am comfortable with my digitization process having been doing it for over three years now. But I ran into problems with one of my rolls from the fall. It was a roll of Kodak Ektachrome E100, which I underexposed a little bit. And I am yet to get acceptable images out of it despite the frames looking quite well on a light table.

So first, the baseline. How do I digitize film? For 35mm black and white and 35mm color negative film, I use the Plustek OpticFilm 8200i SE scanner along with the supplied SilverFast software and I am very happy with the results I get. However, positive slide film has been a challenge with that scanner and software for me, even if counterintuitive. For medium format (120) film, I use the Epson V600 flatbed scanner with the supplied Epson software. And again, I am quite happy with my results. And finally, when I entered the area of large format photography, I had to find yet another solution. I looked into buying the Epson V850 scanner but was not all that excited about the $1,100+ price tag. On top of that, they've been out of stock for several months now and I am wondering whether they are ever coming back.

As you can see now I have three different digitization methods available to me, each with a specific purpose. However, it just so happens, that all of them can be used to digitize 35mm film. So I decided to give them all a shot with the troublesome roll. My goal? Which method would give me the most pleasing results. I wanted to get decent natural colors and acceptable sharpness. No, I was not looking for perfection, just really good if at all possible.

Below, I take you through three photographs, Sample A, Sample B, and Sample C, and show you the results I got from a dedicated 35mm scanner, a digital camera, and a flatbed scanner. For each digitization method I show the full size photo as well as a 100% crop to sow you the detail captured in full resolution.

--- Sample A ---

Sample A - Dedicated 35mm Scanner, Plustek OpticFilm 8200i SE, SilverFast SoftwareSample A - Dedicated 35mm ScannerPlustek OpticFilm 8200i SE, SilverFast Software

Sample A - Dedicated 35mm Scanner
Plustek OpticFilm 8200i SE, SilverFast Software

Sample A - Dedicated 35mm Scanner - 100% Crop, Plustek OpticFilm 8200i SE, SilverFast SoftwareSample A - Dedicated 35mm Scanner - 100% CropPlustek OpticFilm 8200i SE, SilverFast Software

Sample A - Dedicated 35mm Scanner - 100% Crop
Plustek OpticFilm 8200i SE, SilverFast Software

Sample A - Digital Camera, Nikon D610, Tokina atx-i 100mm f/2.8 FF Macro Lens, Enlarger StandSample A - Digital CameraNikon D610, Tokina atx-i 100mm f/2.8 FF Macro Lens, Enlarger Stand

Sample A - Digital Camera
Nikon D610, Tokina atx-i 100mm f/2.8 FF Macro Lens, Enlarger Stand

Sample A - Digital Camera - 100% Crop, Nikon D610, Tokina atx-i 100mm f/2.8 FF Macro Lens, Enlarger StandSample A - Digital Camera - 100% CropNikon D610, Tokina atx-i 100mm f/2.8 FF Macro Lens, Enlarger Stand
Sample A - Digital Camera - 100% Crop
Nikon D610, Tokina atx-i 100mm f/2.8 FF Macro Lens, Enlarger Stand

Sample A - Flatbed Scanner, Epson V600, Epson SoftwareSample A - Flatbed ScannerEpson V600, Epson Software

Sample A - Flatbed Scanner
Epson V600, Epson Software

Sample A - Flatbed Scanner - 100% Crop
Epson V600, Epson SoftwareSample A - Flatbed Scanner - 100% CropEpson V600, Epson Software

Sample A - Flatbed Scanner - 100% Crop
Epson V600, Epson Software

--- Sample B ---

Sample B - Dedicated 35mm Scanner, Plustek OpticFilm 8200i SE, SilverFast SoftwareSample B - Dedicated 35mm ScannerPlustek OpticFilm 8200i SE, SilverFast Software

Sample B - Dedicated 35mm Scanner
Plustek OpticFilm 8200i SE, SilverFast Software

Sample B - Dedicated 35mm Scanner - 100% Crop, Plustek OpticFilm 8200i SE, SilverFast SoftwareSample B - Dedicated 35mm Scanner - 100% CropPlustek OpticFilm 8200i SE, SilverFast Software

Sample B - Dedicated 35mm Scanner - 100% Crop
Plustek OpticFilm 8200i SE, SilverFast Software

Sample B - Digital Camera, Nikon D610, Tokina atx-i 100mm f/2.8 FF Macro Lens, Enlarger StandSample B - Digital CameraNikon D610, Tokina atx-i 100mm f/2.8 FF Macro Lens, Enlarger Stand

Sample B - Digital Camera
Nikon D610, Tokina atx-i 100mm f/2.8 FF Macro Lens, Enlarger Stand

Sample B - Digital Camera - 100% Crop, Nikon D610, Tokina atx-i 100mm f/2.8 FF Macro Lens, Enlarger StandSample B - Digital Camera - 100% CropNikon D610, Tokina atx-i 100mm f/2.8 FF Macro Lens, Enlarger Stand
Sample B - Digital Camera - 100% Crop
Nikon D610, Tokina atx-i 100mm f/2.8 FF Macro Lens, Enlarger Stand

Sample B - Flatbed Scanner, Epson V600, Epson SoftwareSample B - Flatbed ScannerEpson V600, Epson Software

Sample B - Flatbed Scanner
Epson V600, Epson Software

Sample B - Flatbed Scanner - 100% Crop, Epson V600, Epson SoftwareSample B - Flatbed Scanner - 100% CropEpson V600, Epson Software

Sample B - Flatbed Scanner - 100% Crop
Epson V600, Epson Software

--- Sample C ---

Sample C - Dedicated 35mm Scanner, Plustek OpticFilm 8200i SE, SilverFast SoftwareSample C - Dedicated 35mm ScannerPlustek OpticFilm 8200i SE, SilverFast Software

Sample C - Dedicated 35mm Scanner
Plustek OpticFilm 8200i SE, SilverFast Software

Sample C - Dedicated 35mm Scanner - 100% Crop, Plustek OpticFilm 8200i SE, SilverFast SoftwareSample C - Dedicated 35mm Scanner - 100% CropPlustek OpticFilm 8200i SE, SilverFast Software

Sample C - Dedicated 35mm Scanner - 100% Crop
Plustek OpticFilm 8200i SE, SilverFast Software

Sample C - Digital Camera, Nikon D610, Tokina atx-i 100mm f/2.8 FF Macro Lens, Enlarger StandSample C - Digital CameraNikon D610, Tokina atx-i 100mm f/2.8 FF Macro Lens, Enlarger Stand

Sample C - Digital Camera
Nikon D610, Tokina atx-i 100mm f/2.8 FF Macro Lens, Enlarger Stand

Sample C - Digital Camera - 100% Crop, Nikon D610, Tokina atx-i 100mm f/2.8 FF Macro Lens, Enlarger StandSample C - Digital Camera - 100% CropNikon D610, Tokina atx-i 100mm f/2.8 FF Macro Lens, Enlarger Stand
Sample C - Digital Camera - 100% Crop
Nikon D610, Tokina atx-i 100mm f/2.8 FF Macro Lens, Enlarger Stand

Sample C - Flatbed Scanner, Epson V600, Epson SoftwareSample C - Flatbed ScannerEpson V600, Epson Software

Sample C - Flatbed Scanner
Epson V600, Epson Software

Sample C - Flatbed Scanner - 100% Crop, Epson V600, Epson SoftwareSample C - Flatbed Scanner - 100% CropEpson V600, Epson Software

Sample C - Flatbed Scanner - 100% Crop
Epson V600, Epson Software

So what did this rather time consuming exercise give me? Rather disappointing results. From a sharpness point of view, the Plustek scanner definitely won. I got disappointingly blurry images from my digital camera. Here, the film was held in place using the decently sturdy Plustek film holder. The flatbed was blurry too, probably mostly due to the absolutely flimsy film holders that didn't prevent cupping and thus the film plane was far from flat.

From a color accuracy point of view, the digital camera won, followed closely by the flatbed. The Plustek was by far the worst. It made the photos look more like something one would get from a color negative film, not even close to what I saw on a light table. I'd guess this is most likely due to Silverfast but why it does so well with negatives and so poorly with positives I don't know.

The bottom line is that I still don't have acceptable digital photos from this roll. And I am quite discouraged having invested so much time into it already. But I will give it another try as I am convinced I can get more out of the digital camera. Possible improvements? Several: I used a 3-second exposure delay with mirror lock-up but triggered the shutter manually pressing the camera shutter button. Even after 3 seconds, there could have been some camera shake remaining. I must use a remote release next time. Despite the Plustek film holder being sturdy and clearly yielding decent results in the scanner I can get an even better holder that should hold the film flatter. And I should be able to do the digitization in tethered mode while observing the results on a much larger screen for immediate focusing feedback.

There will be a follow up at some point ... (There finally is. If you want to get the best colors out of your scanner, continue reading More Thoughts on Film Digitization).

Enjoy The Beauty That Surrounds You! #etbtsy

PS: And no, this was not my first time trying digital camera scanning. I have been trying to improve my process for quite a while while definitely not relying on it as my primary scanning method (see the top of the post for my current process). During that time, I improved my backlighting, mounted the camera on a sturdy stand, switched from using extension tubes to a dedicated macro lens, eliminated subtle reflections by enclosing my rig in a black tube, and probably more. I know several people who get excellent results to their full satisfaction but I am not one of them (yet). Until that day, I need my scanners.

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